Friday, 18 October 2019

Pumpkins Nine, Ten and Eleven: Celtic Knots and Life After Carving

I'm still not well, so I've been keeping it simple with some Celtic knots. They are easy to do and look really effective. They also offer lots of fun opportunities to play around with photoshop once the image has been finished.

Pumpkin Nine, Celtic Cross 1

Pumpkin Ten, Celtic Cross 2

Pumpkin Eleven, Celtic Cross 3

To make a Celtic knot, make a template of the size you want the carving to be, mark out the shape onto the pumpkin (I use a craft knife and cut through a print out taped to the surface).

For the dark lines around the cross, leave the skin intact.

For the background, use a sharp tool to carefully remove the skin, but no more. 

For the lines in the middle, at the edges where the lines look like they go underneath other lines, remove as little flesh as possible. For the parts of the lines where it looks like the line is going over another line, carve as deep as you can without going all the way through the pumpkin flesh. Join these areas up ensuring the gradient is smooth and there are no sudden jumps in levels. 

Life (for the Pumpkin) After Carving

Some people spray their pumpkins with a mix of bleach and water every day or so. This will extend the life of the pumpkin for a couple of weeks. However, I like to keep my art as natural and environmental as possible, so my carvings only last a couple of days. The 'end game' for me is getting a good photo and the compost bin getting a top up. 

I am pretty much a beginner when it comes to photography, so I won't give any advice on this topic, beyond saying that I use a Canon EOS 750D, tripod, remote control, and the candlelight setting.

When I think I have finished carving, I set up the pumpkin with the desired light level, take photos, load them on the computer, then see where I need to tweak the carving. It usually takes a few cycles to fine tune the pumpkin and get the photo I am happy with.

Once I have the photo, if I think the carving is good enough, I upload the image to RedBubble. Normally I don't photoshop the image beyond cutting the primary image from its background. However, with these Celtic knots, I had some fun playing around with altering the colours using Photoshop's adjust hue setting.

Original and Photoshopped Celtic knots

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Pumpkins Six, Seven and Eight, and dealing with curves on a pumpkin

Pumpkin Number Six

Otter, Pumpkin Number Six

I love the effects I had started to get on this pumpkin, I carved the light and dark areas using a wide U Gouge, and then carved regular shapes into the pumpkin to get the coarse wet fur texture. 

Otter Pumpkin, close up of detail

Unfortunately, I couldn't quite get the nose right, so in the end, I gave up on this design, as it was late and I wasn't very well.

Pumpkin Number Seven

Sparrow, Pumpkin Number Seven

After a couple of days convalescing, I tried to get back to carving. I wasn't really in the right frame of mind, or feeling up to it, but I liked this carving, as it only took me a couple of hours to do, so I could get an early night.

Pumpkin Number Eight

A nasty bug means that I am struggling to keep up with the challenge, and pumpkins six and seven were a bit under par, so with this pumpkin, I tried a bit harder, and I was happy with the result:

Tabby Cat, Pumpkin Number Eight

Available on RedBubble here

Tabby Cat, Unlit

To get this image, I had to stretch the top and bottom parts of the picture, so where the pumpkin curved away, the image remained correctly proportioned when viewed from the front.

I came up with an easy way to help pumpkin newbies work out how much stretch they may need to apply to an image, taking into account the curves of the pumpkin.

Obviously, it's easier to get a nice large pumpkin with an almost flat surface to carve your image, but sometimes, life just throws you a chubby, round pumpkin, or you go mad and decide to give yourself a challenge.

This technique won't work for wider images that will distort as they go around the side of the pumpkin.

Take the image you want to carve onto the pumpkin, and attach it to the pumpkin like below.

Take a long pin and carefully push it through the paper, then make sure it does not veer sideways or up and down, and push it into the pumpkin a little way to leave a small marker.

Go around the image, making little markers at regular intervals, so you have an idea of how the image will lie on the pumpkin. You can then join the dots with a craft knife, or just start carving away using the markers as reference points as you create.

When carving the top and bottom parts of the image, you'll need to angle the cuts, so the light isn't blocked by the sides of the grooves.

Or you can create nice effects cutting into the sides of the grooves to create effects like fur, as I did with the cat's ears in this design. Either way, remember the light won't reach the eye the same way as it will do around the middle of the pumpkin.

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Pumpkin Owls and Preparing the Pumpkin

So I've fallen behind by a day because of a nasty bug, but I hope to catch up in a few days when I'm feeling better. I finished the second owl last night, but tweaked it a bit tonight before uploading it to RedBubble.

I created these designs using a u-gouge and craft knife. I didn't really plan the images before I started, but decided where the eyes and beak were going to go, marked them with a craft knife, then played around gouging out the paler feathers, and adding detail with the craft knife.

To make the background, I used a shallow U Gouge to slowly scrape away layers of skin, to about 1-2mm deep, so the darker areas stood out from the background.

As I'm still very much under the weather, I will deal with an easy topic for the hints and tips section of this post.

Preparing the Pumpkin for Carving

Before you carve, you will need to cut out a hole, at the top, back or bottom of the pumpkin, and pull, scoop, wrestle, and charm the insides out.

To cut out this hole, I suggest using the knife you would pick to cut a raw carrot. Rather than slicing the knife around the edge of the hole, I go round the edge of the hole, pushing the knife in over and over again, slowly working around the edge of the hole.

For this stage, I use a sharp kitchen knife, a spoon and a cereal bowl.

If you are putting the hole at the top, it is a good idea to put the knife in at an angle, so the hole is narrower towards the centre of the pumpkin flesh, and wider at the skin, so when you put the top back on, it sits neatly back on the pumpkin. As the pumpkin flesh will contract a bit as it gets warm and dries out, too straight a line, and the pumpkin top will fall into the pumpkin. (This happened to me the first time I carved a pumpkin.) 

Also make sure the hole is big enough so you can easily get the spoon inside to scrape away the insides, but not too big so that it distracts from the carved image on the side.

Once you have gone round with the knife, keep inserting the knife between the cuts to ensure the flesh is cut all the way through. When you can start levering the top away a little bit, you probably have cut through all the flesh. Using a sturdy enough knife, or one you don't mind bending, you can lever off the top, and start scooping out the inside of the pumpkin and putting them in the bowl.

If you don't want to waste the seeds, there are plenty of recipes online to roast them, and they do make a lovely snack. The stringy goop can also be used in the carving. Last year, I wanted to add more definition to the legs of a Puffin I had carved, as the legs were melting away into the rest of the design, so I laid a couple of strips from inside the pumpkin over the legs, and they really stood out, without looking too conspicuous.

To remove the insides, I use a combination of grabbing and yanking with my hands, and scraping the sides down with a spoon. 

If you want a rustic look to your pumpkin, you can leave it with some of the insides intact. It gives it a bit more of a messy, cobwebby, orange, uneven finish.

If you are going to carve a more intricate pattern, you will want to use the spoon to scrape the inside smooth, so the image you are carving is not fighting an uneven light source coming from inside the pumpkin.

I like the traditional hole in the top of the pumpkin, especially since I have discovered the delights of electric tealights. If you are using real tea lights, you will need to leave the top of the pumpkin off to let in the air for the candle.

However, the hole doesn't need to be on top. You could cut the bottom of the pumpkin out, hiding the hole in the finished product, cut out a hole at the back, or include lots of air holes in your design. I have some designs I am planning to carve later in the month which will use each of these techniques.

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Pumpkins Two and Three: Fishing Boats

Moti Black, Fishing Boat 1, Pumpkin Challenge 2019

As I live in an area with a rich history of fishing, and from my window I can see lots of little fishing boats pottering about in the First of Forth, I decided the next pumpkin would be a fishing boat, and I would create a template for anyone who wanted to have a go at my design so they could try it at home.

I spent far too long going through any photos I had with boats in them and looking out of the window watching the boats out in the Forth, trying to come up with a design. Eventually I came up with a lovely line drawing, which I used to make the above carving. It could have been better, but it got to the point where I was tired, and knew it was never going to be fantastic, so I went to bed. (This challenge is turning out to be a test of how late I can stay up.)

The next day, I sat down and with the desire to keep it simple, I drew the following. I liked the design so much, it was up on Redbubble before I even started carving the pumpkin.

 Plucky Fishing Boat, Moti Black, 2019

Last year I tried various methods to transfer images from plans onto pumpkins. Pencils left no marks or damaged the skin, marker pens ran once the pumpkin juices welled up with cutting, and I would end up with colourful hands and stained pumpkin flesh. Covering the pumpkin with masking tape and drawing over that left me with sticky residue on my tools.

In the end, I chose sticking a printed out version of the plan to the pumpkin, and quickly going round the lines with a sharp craft knife, only cutting very shallow lines. The second I start cutting, the pumpkin releases juices, which make the paper soggy and the ink start to run, so speed is of the essence, as is planning, as lines close to previously cut lines can become blurred, and the paper harder to cut once it has got wet.

The size of the printed version is also important. If you are creating an image to be photographed, you need to bare in mind the final carving will be three dimensional, and on a curved surface. This may mean some of your lines don't look as light as you would like because the side of the shape is blocking the light, or the image is bowed as it goes around the edge of the pumpkin.

Here is the pumpkin I carved with the plucky boat design on it. You may want to scan a picture your child has drawn to convert into a pumpkin design, or a tarot card, photo, or design of your own. If you are creating your own design, cross shaped patterns are good, as they can accommodate the bend of the pumpkin in the gaps of the design. As the design I have picked is circular, I had to crease the paper in four places to keep it close to the pumpkin for the tracing by craft knife.

Getting ready to carve a plucky boat.

After the lines are all recorded, you can wipe off the damp and messy paper. A flannel is good for removing the paper residue, if any has got stuck to the pumpkin.

The next step is to decide which parts of your design need to be the darkest, which need to be the lightest, and work out how many levels are in between, and which section belongs to which level.

I found converting the design to black and white helped me work out the tone I wished for each section. I then broke the design down into 7 sections, the parts which would be left with the skin on (the darkest bits) and the bits which would be carved completely through (the lightest bits).

A tonal plan for the carving

The next steps is to remove the second darkest sections (those which aren't being left with the skin on.) To do this, I use a rounded wood carving scraping tool. (AKA U Gouge). So far there have been one or two in all the woodcarving sets I have bought and they are excellent for slicing away thin layers of pumpkin flesh in a controlled manner.

 Removing the first layer.

After all the sections of the first layer have been removed, I use the same tool to dig a bit deeper for all the sections in the next level, defining the edges with a craft knife, and smoothing out large areas where an even finish is wanted with a flat edged wood carving tool.

 Smoothing out the next level.

I keep going down the levels, going a little bit deeper each time, but not going too deep too quickly, so that I am not through the whole pumpkin before I have go through all of the levels.

 Digging a bit deeper

By keeping the skin on the lower levels throughout the carving, even though they will be dug out the deepest by the end of the process, I can see the original design clearly and the shapes don't get lost in the carving process. When the levels get a bit deeper, the rounded tool is great for sticking in, twisting and gouging out the deeper flesh, before using a combination of the rounded tool, craft knife and the flat tool to smooth the level out to a consistent depth.

Starting to dig out the clouds, which have been left prominent up until this point so their shape doesn't get lost.

For this design, the final touches were sticking in my narrower curved tool and spinning it around so it cut a small circle all the way through the pumpkin for the light of the lighthouse, then I used a craft knife to cut little grooves to show the rays coming from the light house. This works very well when viewing the pumpkin in the flesh, as the light appears to flash when you move about and catch a direct line of sight to source of light.

I found that the windows worked better in photographs after I cut through the base and pushed them back into the pumpkin a little way, so although they had the same depth of flesh, they didn't stand as far forward from the pale cabin section.

Finally, I used two electric tea lights one their side and pointing towards the back of the pumpkin to cast an even, eerie light on this design for the photo shoot. If you are doing this design for a semi-dark setting, you will need a stronger light, and the clouds could be cut out entirely if you want the pumpkin to emit more light.

At which point, at 5 am this morning, I declared pumpkin 3 of the Pittenweem Pumpkin Challenge finished!

The next pumpkin will be an owl, but I am giving myself tonight off.

Happy Haul-oween by Moti Black, 2019

This image can be found on RedBubble, and a printable PDF of the template and layer level diagram can be downloaded here.

It probably took me about 6 hours to carve this pumpkin, including gutting the pumpkin and taking photos of my progress. It is possible to complete with a craft knife and one wood carving u-gouge, but a set of wood carving tools will give you more choice of cutting implements.

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Pumpkin Sunflower

The first pumpkin has rolled off the factory line here at Moti Black HQ. It took me three days, as I am a bit rusty and still getting into the swing of things. I am going to have to speed things up a bit if I am going to get 31 finished by October 31st!

As my garden is still full of lovely giant sunflowers, I took a photo of one of my sunflowers and started carving away.

Although I thought I was finished at the end of the first day of carving, when I looked at the photos the next day, I realised I was going to have to carve a lot deeper for the petals, as they weren't light enough to contrast well with the dark centre. At the end of day two, I again thought I had finished, but the next day, I looked at the these photos and thought, nah, I can do better, so dug out some more flesh from the petals, and took much more time over the photographs. I eventually caught a photo I liked, and prepped the image for Redbubble. There are two versions, one with the original background, and one with a plain dark brown background.

A Moti Pumpkin Sunflower, Pumpkin/Photography September 2019

Pumpkins Tips: Lighting Options

White LED Lamp

I use a mix of lighting sources when carving, photographing and displaying pumpkins. Whilst I am carving, I like a strong white LED lamp, as it helps me see clearly the progress of the carving. When showing off pumpkins outside and at a distance, this is a great choice. However, close up and for more detailed work, I find it a bit too strong. It lightens the dark areas a bit too much, removing subtle contrast and doesn't cast an even light over the inside of the pumpkin.

Sunflower Pumpkin with White LED Lamp

Electric Tea Lights

I didn't expect to like the electric tea light option, but bought some thinking they would be convenient and safer for mobile displays. I got some that flicker slightly, and nearly forgot to use them. It was only on the third day of carving the sunflower pumpkin that I tried them, and they were actually my favourite option for photographing the pumpkin. The final version used three electric tea lights.

Sunflower Pumpkin with Electric Tea Lights

Tea Lights

There is nothing like sitting in front of a carved pumpkin with real tea lights flickering away inside. They don't mix so well with a curious cat, and you need to ensure they have ventilation, so either have a design with big holes in the front, air holes in the back, or leave the top of the pumpkin off. I love the reddish tint they give off when I photograph them. 

Sunflower Pumpkin with tea lights (three)


Last year, I sometimes used pillar candles in some of my designs. I found cutting the bottom of the pumpkin out helped lower the candle, so the larger single flame fell closer to the centre of the image.

Playing around with lighting

In this pumpkin, I used a sheet of white paper in front of a white LED lamp. This diffused the light and gave a lovely white area to the space in the pumpkin I cut through.

A Moti Pumpkin Puffin Pumpkin/Photography 2018

Other lighting effects can be used through bundles of fairy lights, coloured electric tea lights, foil shapes, sheets of coloured acetate.

The next challenge is going to be a fishing boat, complete with a template for you to try the carving yourself.

Lydia helping me with carving

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Pittenweem Pumpkins: The Challenge Begins...

What are you doing?

I have set myself the goal of carving 31 pumpkins in October.

I will share images of these pumpkins on social media and on Redbubble.

On twitter, Instagram and Facebook, I am @motiblackart, and I will use the hashtag #PittenweemPumpkins2019

I will also try to blog here most days, sharing the things I am learning about pumpkin carving and the highs and lows of this mad challenge I have set myself.

I am already cheating a bit, as I got hold of two pumpkins yesterday, so plan to start carving tonight.

I carve pumpkins to be photographed in the dark, I then use the photos or photoshop the images and upload them to Redbubble. This means some of the pumpkins don’t look the same in lighter conditions.

What do you do with the pumpkins when you have photographed them?

If you like the look of something I have carved, I am happy for you to pop round a view the pumpkin (please contact me to arrange a time, and remember it will have to be after dark!), you can even take the pumpkins away for a small donation to a local Pittenweem charity (such as the West Braes Project or the Library, the choice is yours).

If no one wants the pumpkin, I will turn it around and carve the other side to avoid waste. If they are still unclaimed at this point, they get the candle wax scraped off them and put in the compost. Most of the pumpkins I am carving are not the 'nutritional' pumpkin variety, so not ideal for eating: especially once they are a few days old, covered in candle wax and slightly burnt in places.

Can I join in?

Please do!

Get carving and post photos of your own pumpkins with the hashtag #PittenweemPumpkins2019.

Organise pumpkin carving parties, line the streets of Pittenweem (or wherever you are) with pumpkins!

The more pumpkins the better!


If you are organising a pumpkin related fund raising event for a charity or local cause, let me know and I will give you a shout out here.

How can I support you?

Please follow me on Twitter and Instagram, or like my page on Facebook.

Encouraging comments or likes will help keep my morale up during the long hard slog.

You can also have a look at my Redbubble shop and get your Christmas shopping done early ;-)

Thank you :-)

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

The Pittenweem Pumpkin Challenge

Last year, I caught the pumpkin carving bug.

I carved seven pumpkins, five of which worked out quite well and two made good pumpkin soup. Four of my pumpkins through photographs or photoshop worked their way onto RedBubble.

To up the excitement for 2019, I set myself the challenge of trying to carve a pumpkin a day for the whole of October. This may fall flat on its face right from day one, as it was two weeks into October last year before I even managed to get my hands on a pumpkin. So I am also trying to grow pumpkins for the first time this year, and they have taken over the entire back garden.

I also hope you will join me by setting yourself a target (from 1-31) and posting your creations on social media with the hashtag #PittenweemPumpkins2019. I will be posting my creations, both successes and flops here, and on twitter, instagram and facebook (@motiblackart).

And to get you in the mood, I have put together a bundle of RedBubble goodies from my shop for you to win. All you need to do is head over to facebook, like my facebook page, share the post, and comment on the original post something you would like to see me carve into a pumpkin in October. (Please keep it clean!)

This competition has closed

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index: